For fans of the blockbuster Star Wars series, swinging a lightsaber around the backyard was probably a fond childhood memory.
Now, thanks to the progression of technology and a burgeoning local combat community, some Bay Area fans get to learn to fight like their favorite characters.
"As a kid you throw around a lightsaber, playing around with it. As an adult, you find something like this, and it’s like you’ve found it," says Michael Masangkay about finding lightsaber combat classes. "It’s just a pure joy, a pure enthusiasm. And it’s very infectious."
Masangkay is an instructor at LudoSport in San Francisco, one of several places in the Bay Area that teaches kids and adults how to use a lightsaber, or rather, the closest option they can get to the real thing. The sabers used in these classes aren't something someone can pick up at a store. They're made to be durable and safe to fight with, and they can usually only be found online.
"The technology has gotten a lot simpler, and it’s a lot easier for someone to actually build their own lightsaber than it was 10 years ago," says Erich Bitonia, who builds his own lightsabers and uses them at lightsaber combat classes in the South Bay. "What's cooler than walking around with a lightsaber?"
The handles are commonly made from aluminum, often customized to look like something seen in the movies. The blades are a polycarbonate tube affixed to the handle for safety. Some sabers are fancier than others -- made to be lighter or have extra color options for the blade -- while others can be much simpler.
Each lightsaber combat class has its own spin, appealing to the wide spectrum of fans.
LudoSport, where Masangkay is an instructor, is more technical and teaches students a system that is reminiscent of fencing. All the students learn a fighting system, and many of them compete at tournaments.
Golden Gate Knights, also in San Francisco, focuses on choreography. This gives students, who often create costumes of their favorite Star Wars characters to perform in, a way to mimic the fights seen on screen.
"I first started wanting to go to these classes because I was cosplaying Star Wars characters and wanted to know how to pose and play around with a lightsaber," says Jin di Giordano, who is now working on choreography for her favorite character in the Golden Gate Knights class. "A lot of people don't even know this kind of thing exists."
In the South Bay, there is Lightsaber Team, a combat choreography and fitness group, offering fans who want a workout a chance to learn moves and stay fit.
Also in the South and East Bay, the local Saber Guild chapter offers classes that teaches choreography. Guild members have to create a costume that meets certain standards since the group is Lucasfilm-sanctioned, but non-members with no costumes can still go to lightsaber classes.
Masangkay says that the movies and lightsabers bring people in, but something else keeps them coming back.
"What keeps them here is the sportsmanship, the evolution of your skills, the challenge and the friendships people build," he says.